Between the embarrassment of Brazil and start of Euro 2016, there was a brief moment when Roy Hodgson seemed to have a handle on what his best formation and starting line-up was, yet as England’s Euro 2016 campaign got underway yesterday, England’s most indecisive manager ever reverted to type.

The warning signs were there in the pre-tournament friendlies as Hodgson failed to settle on a formation or any semblance of consistency in his line-up. Friendlies are generally the time to experiment, but friendlies on the brink of a major tournament aren’t. They’re valuable games in which you need to give your starting XI chance to get comfortable with each other and the system they’ll be playing. Instead, Roy Hodgson wasted those valuable minutes of preparation time scratching his head and dithering on vital decisions.

I’m not without sympathy for the England boss because the best players he has available to him seem to share positions with other high-quality players (Vardy and Kane, Alli and Rooney). Then you have specific problems like Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, both quality players but the former is constantly broken and lacking match fitness and the latter, for all his flashes of brilliance, still hasn’t found an end product.

As it was, the formation and line-up Hodgson went with wasn’t a bad one. Rooney proved himself more than capable in central midfield and England dominated a game they should probably have closed out in the first half. Russia held on though and it wasn’t until midway through the second half England broke the deadlock with an Eric Dier freekick.

At this point, Russia had nothing to lose and were bound to come on strongly. What had seemed like a Hodgson masterstroke – leaving Vardy on the bench to finish them off with his pace late in the game when Russia were tiring and chasing the game – was surely about to reap its reward?


Instead, Hodgson started making baffling decisions. First he brought Jack Wilshere on for the captain and driving force behind what had been a very good performance up to that point, Wayne Rooney. It wasn’t that Wilshere coming on was a bad call, but the obvious replacement was Sterling or Lallana (who’d had a very good first half, but gone quiet in the second).

Then, in a typically conservative, incredibly baffling moment of madness, Hodgson brought on James Milner. I love Milner, but he adds nothing at this point. Russia have England on the backfoot and are starting to put pressure on a defence which had looked dodgy throughout, particularly from set plays. Trying to sure up that defence with a slow midfielder, must go down as one of the worst substitutions an England manager has ever made.

Had Hodgson gone for Jamie Vardy instead, all he needs to do is stand on the halfway line and give them something to think about. I don’t care how good they are, no team in this competition is going to commit everyone forward while someone with Jamie Vardy’s pace stands ready to punish you for it. He immediately removes players from Russia’s onslaught by his mere presence. Not only that, but he provides the outlet for when an England player does get the ball. All they need to do knowing Vardy (with fresh legs) is on the pitch, is smash it into a channel for him to chase and by doing so, we immediately turn the tables.

Instead, we tried to rely on our truly awful defence and were predictably punished for it.

There’s hope for England, it just requires Hodgson to go against his basic instincts. Our failure to close that game out rests on his shoulders. But England should field the same starting XI v Wales, they’ll have learnt from this first outing and now know what worked and what didn’t, then all Hodgson needs to do is make better substitutions. Don’t take off the guy who’s been running the show when Lallana has gone quiet and Raheem Sterling is failing to deliver the killer blow. And for crying out loud, Jamie Vardy versus tired legs is a nuclear bomb like threat from the bench. There’s no manager alive who wasn’t putting him on at 1-0.


Congratulations to any Welsh fans who might be reading this. As a Leeds United fan, it’s great to see Chris Coleman continue to build on the progress Gary Speed made.

Props for this too…